Forget the iPhone 6 Plus: It’s the 6 That’s Too Big

Since 2007, I’ve owned every iPhone except the 3G — six in all. The iPhone 6 would’ve been seven. Instead it’s the first one I’m returning.

The iPhone is so central to my relationship to the world at this point that I essentially think of it as a utility: I’ll happily pay $30 a month[1] for the best experience possible. All Apple really has to do every year is make the camera better, make everything a bit faster, and ideally add some additional sensor or chip that does something useful. The iPhone 6 did all of those things — improved auto-focus, faster CPU, NFC, elevation tracking — and more. I was initially skeptical of the increased size, but I figured that Apple, having stood firm against the deluge of massive (and popular) Android phones for so many years, had figured out a way to incorporate a larger screen without compromising the comfort and intimacy of the iPhone. After using an iPhone 6 for a couple days, I’ve concluded that they haven’t.

Nearly every review I’ve read of the iPhone 6 has taken as a given that an iPhone with a larger screen is simply a better iPhone. I don’t know if these reviewers all have larger hands than I do or are just used to handling larger phones, but for me the size is a dealbreaker. It’s simply unpleasant to hold. When people were making cardboard cutouts of the new iPhone sizes after the announcement, I joked on Twitter that the trick to making the 4.7-inch seem reasonable was to try the 5.5-inch first, but this seems to have been exactly what happened to most reviewers: in nearly every review that included both devices, the primary comparison was between the 6 and 6 Plus, which is roughly the iPhone equivalent of accepting a plea bargain for 5 years to avoid possible life in prison. For people who adore the size of the 5/5S, the 6 Plus is an irrelevant distraction, a concession to people with vastly different priorities and preferences — essentially a different product entirely. What matters isn’t how the 6 compares to the 6 Plus; it’s how the 6 compares to the iPhones we’ve been using for years.

The conventional wisdom is that, by making the iPhone 6 thinner and rounding off the edges, Apple has compensated for the larger size in ways that many Android manufacturers haven’t. But as impressive as the engineering of the iPhone 6 is (hideous antenna bands aside), in my hands the extra width still makes it much less comfortable to hold, the added height makes it unsteady, and the rounded edges and slippery surface make it treacherously insecure. (By comparison, the move from a 3.5-inch screen to a 4-inch screen had no effect on how easily you could grip the phone.) A number of reviews have said that the iPhone 6 practically demands a case, but that seems like a pretty strong condemnation of a phone’s design. And for people who haven’t used cases on their iPhones previously, adding a case on the 6 would increase the size and weight even more.

As John Gruber said in his review — one of the few to question the size increase — a larger screen is a trade-off: more difficult to use one-handed, but great for content and easier to type on. For me the trade-off isn’t worth it, but one-handed use is also only part of the problem. Even if you’re using your other hand to actually touch the screen, you still have to hold the phone, and the very act of holding the iPhone 6 in one hand is, at least for me, less pleasant. While I enjoyed using the 6 while sitting on a couch, essentially as an iPad Nano, using it nearly everywhere else was an uncomfortable and often terrifying affair. It’s possible that I would get used to it (as Gruber suspects he will, though he hadn’t after a week of use), but, then, humans are pretty adaptable. I could probably get used to asking strangers for directions again if I had to.

In some ways, the issue is a philosophical one. I want my amazing mobile computers to get smaller and more natural, not bigger and more computer-like, and I don’t think I was alone in believing that Apple shared that philosophy.[2] The iPhone 6 feels like a screen I’m holding in my hand; the smaller iPhones have felt like extensions of my hand. There’s clearly a huge market for extra-large phones, and, sneering ads from Samsung aside, not introducing an iPhone 6 Plus would’ve been leaving money on the table. But replacing the 4.0-inch model with a 4.7-inch model feels like a betrayal of the principles that have guided the iPhone’s phenomenal success for the last 7 years.

Here’s hoping for an iPhone 6S Minus next year.

[1] ($750 unlocked middle model + $65 tax - $450 resale of previous phone) / 12 months = $30/month

[2] It’s actually more confounding in light of the Apple Watch. As Michael Tsai said during the Watch announcement, “So there’s a small(er) watch but no smaller phone?”